Caril Ann Fugate

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Caril Ann Clair
Caril Ann Fugate Nebraska 1958.A.jpg
Caril Fugate, pictured in February 1958
Caril Ann Fugate

(1943-07-30) July 30, 1943 (age 78)
Criminal statusReleased
Spouse(s)Fredrick Clair (m. 2007; died 2013)
Conviction(s)First degree murder
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment; commuted to 30 to 50 years

Caril Ann Fugate (born July 30, 1943) is the youngest female in United States history to have been tried for first-degree murder.[1] She was the adolescent girlfriend of spree killer Charles Starkweather, being just 14 years old when his murders took place in 1958.[2] She was convicted as his accomplice and sentenced to life imprisonment, being paroled after 17 years in 1976.

Background to crime spree[edit]

Fugate lived in Lincoln, Nebraska with her mother and stepfather. In 1956, at age 13, she formed a relationship with Charles Starkweather, a high school dropout five years her senior. They met through Caril's sister, Barbara, who was dating Starkweather's friend, Bob von Busch. On January 21, 1958,[3] Starkweather shot and killed Fugate's stepfather, Marion Bartlett, and her mother, Velda. Starkweather then hit Fugate's younger half-sister, Betty Jean, and stabbed her in the neck. Fugate claimed she came home to find Starkweather there alone, waiting for her with a gun. She said he told her that her family was being held hostage and that if she did exactly as he said, her family would be safe. During the next six days, the pair lived in the house and turned away all visitors, which made Fugate's relatives suspicious. The bodies were found later in outbuildings on the property.[4]

Cross-state crime spree[edit]

Starkweather and Fugate then fled, driving across Nebraska and into Wyoming on a murder spree that claimed six more lives before they were arrested.[4] She admitted holding a .410 gauge shotgun on a young high school couple, Robert Jensen and Carol King.[5]


Starkweather was sentenced to death and executed in the electric chair on June 25, 1959. He insisted that although he had personally killed most of the victims, Fugate had murdered several as well. Although she continued to maintain her innocence, she was tried and convicted for her role in the murder spree. Based on evidence presented that Fugate had opportunities to leave her captivity, and Starkweather's own testimony, the jury found her testimony that she was Starkweather's hostage not credible. She was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York, Nebraska.[1] In 1973, the Nebraska Board of Pardons commuted Fugate's sentence to 30 to 50 years, making her eligible for parole. Governor J. James Exon and Secretary of State Allen Beermann voted in favor of the commutation, while Attorney General Clarence A. H. Meyer dissented.[6]

Release from prison[edit]

Considered to be a model prisoner, Fugate was paroled in 1976 after serving 17 years.[7] She lived for a time in the Lansing, Michigan, area after being paroled.[8] Following her release, Fugate worked as a janitorial assistant. She has since retired.

In 2007, Fugate married Fredrick Clair, a machinist who also worked as a weather observer for the National Weather Service. Their most recent city of residence was Hillsdale, Michigan.

Fugate was seriously injured on August 5, 2013, in a single-vehicle accident near Tekonsha, Michigan. Her husband, who was driving their sport utility vehicle when it went off the road and overturned, died at the scene.[9]

Fugate, going by her married name of Caril Ann Clair, was denied a pardon by the Nebraska Board of Pardons in February 2020. Her pardon application was supported by relatives of the murder victims. She maintained her innocence in the 1958 slayings, and requested a pardon to "alleviate the burden" of being known as a convicted killer. Her pardon was denied because the role of a pardon is to restore a felon's rights, not to absolve them of crimes.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

Film and television[edit]

The Starkweather–Fugate case inspired the films The Sadist (1963), Badlands (1973), Kalifornia (1993), Natural Born Killers (1994) and Starkweather (2004). The made-for-TV movie Murder in the Heartland (1993) is a biographical depiction of Fugate and Starkweather, starring Fairuza Balk and Tim Roth in the starring roles. Stark Raving Mad (1983), a film starring Russell Fast and Marcie Severson, provides a fictionalized account of the Starkweather–Fugate murder spree.

The 1996 Peter Jackson film The Frighteners features central plot elements with characters almost identical to Starkweather and Fugate, who commit a murder spree. The fourth episode, "Dangerous Liaisons", of season four from the ID series Deadly Women (aired September 2, 2010) was about the Starkweather–Fugate murders. The first episode, "Teenage Wasteland", of season four from the Investigation Discovery series A Crime to Remember (aired December 6, 2016) portrays the murders and subsequent trial. "The Thirteenth Step", the January 11, 2011, episode of Criminal Minds, depicts newlyweds on a North Dakota-Montana killing spree similar to the Starkweather–Fugate case.[11]


The 1974 book Caril is an unauthorized biography of Fugate written by Ninette Beaver, B.K. Ripley (pen name of Alexandra Ripley), and Patrick Trese.[12] Liza Ward, the granddaughter of victims C. Lauer and Clara Ward, wrote the 2004 novel Outside Valentine, based on the events of the Starkweather–Fugate murder-spree. The book Pro Bono: The 18-Year Defense of Caril Ann Fugate by Jeff McArthur follows Fugate's defense team through the trial and appeals process.[13]

In 2011, art photographer Christian Patterson released Redheaded Peckerwood, a collection of photos taken each January from 2005 to 2010 along the 500 mile route traversed by Starkweather and Fugate. The book includes reproductions of documents and photographs of objects that belonged to Starkweather, Fugate, and their victims.


  • Bruce Springsteen's 1982 song "Nebraska" is a first-person narrative based on the Starkweather murders.
  • The San Francisco pop-punk Band J Church's 1994 song "Hate So Real" was based on the Starkweather/Fugate case, including the names of several victims and the line, "Now Caril can't deny me/and to this day I swear/she should be sittin' on my lap when I go to the chair." Additionally, the song "In Vain" from their 1993 release Yellow, Blue and Green used pictures of the two in its artwork.
  • Nebraska-based electropop trio Icky Blossoms featured a song entitled "Stark Weather" on their self-titled debut album. It is narrated from Starkweather's point of view and includes references to his killing of Fugate's mother, stepfather, and half-sister.
  • Nicole Dollanganger's song "Nebraska" (featured on her album Flowers of Flesh and Blood) is a retelling of the murders; though Starkweather is never actually named, Fugate is mentioned in a line which states "[he] showed his Caril Ann how to use a knife/picked it up slowly/killed with it twice".
  • The crime is mentioned in Billy Joel's song "We Didn't Start the Fire" with the line "Starkweather homicide.."
  • The 2009 Church of Misery song "Badlands (Charles Starkweather & Caril Fugate)" is about the Starkweather murders.


  1. ^ a b Cawthorne, Nigel (2007-01-01). Serial Killers & Mass Murderers: Profiles of the World's Most Barbaric Criminals. Ulysses Press. ISBN 9781569755785.
  2. ^ Rule, Ann (2004). Kiss Me, Kill Me: Ann Rule's Crime Files. Simon and Schuster. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-671-69139-4. Retrieved October 22, 2010.
  3. ^ Wishart, David J. (2004). Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. U of Nebraska Press. p. 462. ISBN 978-0-8032-4787-1. Retrieved October 22, 2010.
  4. ^ a b "CARIL FUGATE IS FOUND GUILTY, GETS LIFE TERM". St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Main ed.). Associated Press. November 21, 1958. pp. 1, 15.
  5. ^ Duggan, Joe. "Friends of murdered teens wonder what might have been". Lincoln Journal-Star. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  6. ^ "Fugate". The Gazette. 1973-10-31. p. 22. Retrieved 2022-03-25.
  7. ^ Flowers, R. Barri; H. Loraine Flowers (April 2005). Murders In The United States: Crimes, Killers And Victims Of The Twentieth Century. McFarland. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-7864-2075-9. Retrieved October 22, 2010.
  8. ^ "Caril Ann Fugate Clair critically hurt in I-69 crash | Former girlfriend of Charles Starkweather was convicted in 'Badlands' murders".
  9. ^ "Caril Ann Fugate, Infamous 1950s Murder Spree Convict, Critically Injured In Crash That Killed Husband". August 7, 2013. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016..
  10. ^ "Notorious killer Charles Starkweather's ex-girlfriend denied pardon by Nebraska". NBC News. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  11. ^ "Criminal Minds Recap: The Thirteenth Step". October 14, 2011. Archived from the original on October 22, 2012. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  12. ^ Beaver, Ninette; Ripley, B. K.; Trese, Patrick (1974). Caril. Lippincott. ISBN 978-0-397-00997-8. Retrieved 22 October 2010.
  13. ^ McArthur, Jeff (2012). Pro Bono: The 18-Year Defense of Caril Ann Fugate. Bandwagon Books. ISBN 978-1479108374. Retrieved 15 February 2017.

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